The exclamatory punctuation of tears

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There is something about witnessing a grown man’s tears.

Even a single escaped droplet traces his cheek like an exclamation point, deeply impressing whatever circumstances or moral-of-the-story that brought him to the verge of choked emotion.

It was with paused and deep emotion that Fr. Dennis Mullens, retired priest for the diocese, lamented through a short commentary at the end of Mass for the post-Christmas Feast of the Holy Family.

His message was a postscript to his homily’s motivating challenge for men to take seriously their roles as husbands and fathers. To protect their families and homes from any and all influences that threaten their peace, unity, love for and following of “the Father of all.” To be responsible, not only for the physical lives they helped bring into the world, but the souls.

Fr. Mullen’s final exclamation was about coherence with calling oneself “pro-life.” He drew the uncomfortable but convicting connection between being pro-life and pro-adoption.

That as a people, as a Church, if we are to profess ourselves as pro-life, we therefore must be committed to adoption – not just to advocating adoption, but to asking ourselves directly, “Is there room for one more at our table?”

January marks the anniversary of the legalization of abortion. In my home, we have prayed for participants in the March for Life. My children regularly hear prayers at church and school for “an end to abortion,” but this is the first time I have actually had to explain what abortion means.

Thankfully so incomprehensible for a young child, my careful explanation has seemed to go in one ear and out the other. However, my own attempts to find the words have definitely been punctuated with an exclamatory tear!
February quickly follows like a quick flick of that tear. Hearts and roses fill our minds and storefronts – and love is in the air.

It’s unnerving how little connection our current culture draws between babies and marriage, between where babies come from and where they are ideally raised.

Yes, yes, yes. There are always exceptions and God can bring good out of every situation. But why, why, why are we so quick – like that tear – to flick away the hard realities, the tough questions?

I have to ask – and invite you to do the same – are there any unnerving connections I draw in my own thinking and acting between babies and marriage? How about between other pro-life issues and relationships in general?
One of the first flags to pop is politically polemic. These are complex issues with complicated consequences, and I’m not attempting to comment on laws or policies or personal positions.

My musings here are meant to be personal, but also both thought-provoking and action-provoking.

It is appropriate that my children don’t ask about every difference between our immediate family and others – pregnancy, marriage, elder-care, so-called social status.

But when they do ask why so-and-so’s parents got divorced, am I quick to flick it away? Am I able to find a balance between presenting the truth about God’s plan for marriage, what is ideal and where certain difficult choices need to be made?

Do I know how to differentiate the sacramental understanding of marriage from the broader acceptance of it merely as a legal status?

Can I share my own experience of an unplanned pregnancy, asserting the goodness and value of my son’s life, while affirming chastity until (and in) marriage?

Am I affirming enough of the commitment we witness in caring for elderly grandparents? Real enough about the difficulties of prioritizing among so many needs, of putting sacrificial love into action?

How sincere was the support I offered when my husband asked to look into being a kidney donor? Sincere enough – admittedly marked by fear for his health, but admiring his pro-life disposition towards the recipient, a person with whom we have a complicated connection.

It is never an either/or. It is always a both/and.

We want life to be black and white, but reality exists in the rhythm of grays. Conviction is often punctuated by tears and the paradox is they are a sign of both sorrow and joy.

Which brings us to the real question at hand. Do I trust enough to allow God’s paradoxes to prevail? His mercy to penetrate the foggy grays?

Am I bold enough to defend his truth while extending a generous hand to those with whom I disagree? Am I courageous enough to look at the limits I have placed on how far I am willing to take my pro-life and pro-marriage stances?

Is there room for one more at my table? Is there openness to an uncomfortable commitment?

What place does fear and doubt and the need for control and security play in my decisions and actions?

I need – we all need – to be reminded of that most-repeated phrase of Jesus in Scripture – “be not afraid.” A phrase punctuated by the most exclamatory tears, proclaiming the infinite value of my life and committing to love me unconditionally, to the point of shedding divine blood.

Those are droplets – both fruits of sorrow and seeds of joy – I most definitely cannot flick away.

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